Frequently asked questions about the Scheme and its work

1 - What is the MAS and who is it aimed at?

The MAS is a voluntary scheme for recording archaeological material that has been discovered on the seabed around England and Wales. Individuals likely to use this resource include recreational divers and fishermen, however, any member of the public may also come across archaeological material when visiting the coast or working in marine areas.

The marine historic environment is finite and fragile, constantly under threat from human and natural pressures. It should be enjoyed by all and benefit local and national communities. The MAS attempts to increase recording and access to information on archaeological and historical finds from the marine environment. This is to ensure that information about artefacts from the nation’s past is preserved in the national consciousness.

Work activities currently under commercial licence or subject to existing protocols for archaeological discoveries associated with development do not fall under the remit of the MAS. Where no alternative recording method is established, it is possible that archaeologists may also use the MAS for recording objects discovered during marine investigations such as geophysical or remotely operated vehicle (ROV) surveys. This is provided no licences or development consents already deal with the aspect of reporting of archaeological finds (for example, in the case of research projects). It is safe to assume that, if you are not aware of provisions for recording archaeological discoveries, then you should record any discoveries via the MAS.

2 - What makes a find ‘archaeological’? How do I know what to record?

Archaeology is the study of people in the past through what they leave behind. In the sea, archaeological finds tend to come from one of three sources: ships and shipwrecks, crashed aircraft and submerged prehistory, such as stone tools. If in doubt, assume it is archaeological and record it via the MAS.

You can find out more about the type of finds you may encounter from the MAS guides.

3 - What kind of archaeological material comes under the MAS?

The MAS is a portal for recording archaeological finds made in the marine environment. Archaeological finds can encompass any period of history up to and including the present time – provided that it is able to shed light on past human activity. Marine discoveries as recent as the Second World War, or even the Cold War era are arguably able to do this.

Archaeological remains may include:

  • Evidence of prehistoric activity when the sea levels were much lower, including flint tools, animal bone, tusks or teeth, and organic remains in the form of peat and wood
  • Remains of shipwrecks and any associated debris, potentially dating from the Mesolithic (8500 – 4000 BC) through to the modern period
  • Aircraft crash sites together with any associated debris dating from the 20th century
  • Ordnance potentially dating from the medieval period in the form of cannonballs or shot through to more modern objects
  • Many other objects that have found their way into a marine context by various means

Finds of late 20th century material are unlikely to be archaeologically useful or have any heritage value, so the finder may use their discretion in this respect. However, if there is any doubt, it is best to record the find.

While some finds of ‘wreck’ may not be archaeological due to their age, and therefore not appropriate for the MAS, all wreck, no matter what age, should legally to be reported to the Receiver of Wreck.

4 - What locations does the MAS cover?

The MAS extends from the Mean Low Water Mark through the marine zone to the boundary of English and Welsh waters as far as the Exclusive Economic Zone, as much as 200nm from the shore. The MAS complements the existing Portable Antiquities Scheme that operates on land from the Mean Low Water Mark and the Coastal and Intertidal Archaeological Network (CITiZAN) that monitors at risk sites on the coast of England.

5 - Can I leave my finds where I found them?

Yes, and this is actually the preferred first option. Responsible users of the seabed and marine environment are aware that they should attempt to make no impact on the environment. For the historic environment, this means objects should ideally be left alone and not removed or otherwise disturbed (remaining in situ). Most of the major diving organisations have codes of practice that encourage a responsible approach to the marine environment.

6 - How do I know if my find is new or if it has been recorded previously?

A find, in its broadest sense, can be a single object. Finds can also represent a ‘site’, for example, a shipwreck or aircraft crash site. It is hoped that all objects and sites are recorded via the MAS.

Many sites on the seabed are known so in the instance of a wreck already known and listed by the Local Authority’s Historic Environment Record, United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, National Record of the Historic Environment or National Monuments Record of Wales, if there is no new information to add it does not need to be recorded under the MAS.

However, if you are uncertain whether your discovery of an object or site is new or if it has previously been documented, it is preferable for the find to be recorded anyway. The recording of previously known finds can help confirm the condition of an object or site and whether it is degrading or moving, depending on the detail provided. The MAS team can research the find on your behalf and conclude whether it is a new discovery.

If you are interested in undertaking some of your own research, you can use the following online database searches:

7 - How do I record my find(s)?

Finds can be recorded via the

or by using the specially developed MAS app:

Questions can be directed to the MAS team

8 - What will I gain from recording my finds?

By recording your finds with the MAS you can receive:

  • Communication as to the importance of the material
  • Guidance for identifying objects
  • Advice on conservation and storage
  • Advice on relevant legislation

9 - What type of information about my finds do you want?

Basic information

  • the date of discovery along with the name and email address of the finder.

Positional information

  • either in the form of latitude and longitude (WGS84) or by manually describing the location using place names and landmarks, as well as an indication as to whether the object is still in its original position or if it has been recovered.

Photographs of the object

  • Using a scale where possible. For more details see MAS guides

Details describing the find

  • material, dimensions, condition, whether it appears to be associated with any other archaeological site or material, and potential identification.

10 - How do I store my recovered finds?

Marine finds are very fragile and can dry out quickly and degrade if they are not treated correctly. This is why it is preferred that finds are not disturbed or removed, rather it is best to leave the find in the location it was found. However, where real threat to the find is identified and it is necessary to recover an object, it is important to keep finds cool, dark and wet.

If a find is already dry, do not place it back into water as this can cause further deterioration. Instead, keep it in a cool, dark and dry place. Make sure to label the find with the location and date of recovery.

11 - I have a collection of items recovered from a marine area over many years. Am I expected to record this material?

No. The MAS is for the recording of newly made discoveries. Discoveries of objects or sites made prior to the implementation of the MAS should be directed to your local Historic Environment Record office or the Receiver of Wreck in the case of wreck.

12 - Who has access to the information about my finds? Are my personal details accessible?

The MAS will make as much of the information available as possible although your personal details will be confidential as will exact locations of archaeological sites.

Precise details of find locations will only be available to Wessex Archaeology, heritage organisations such as local Historic Environment Record offices or the National Record of the Historic Environment and government organisations such as the Receiver of Wreck or Ministry of Defence.

Details of the finds recorded will be published in our online database, accessible for members of the public, but the location of finds is only identified by a latitude and longitude of two decimal places in terms of decimal degrees (which identifies approximately 700m east-west and 1km north-south). No personal details can be seen in the database.

Whilst you will remain the owner and copyright holder of any of your images you upload to the site, by uploading a photograph you grant us consent to unrestricted use of that image for the purposes of the Marine Antiquities Scheme and its associated website and app.

For more details, please see the MAS Privacy Policy and The Crown Estate’s Fair Processing Notice.

13 - Am I legally obliged to record all my finds?

No. The MAS is entirely voluntary. However, you must report material which constitutes ‘wreck’, or which you believe may be wreck, as required under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.

14 - What is ‘wreck’?

According to the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, wreck is legally defined as jetsam, flotsam, lagan and derelict found in or on the shores of the sea or any tidal water.

  • Jetsam refers to goods thrown over the side of a stricken vessel in order to lighten it
  • Flotsam describes goods that remain afloat after the sinking of a vessel
  • Lagan refers to goods cast overboard from a ship prior to its sinking, which are buoyed for recovery
  • Derelict describes material, whether vessel or cargo, which has been abandoned at sea with no hope of recovery

Further details on wreck and salvage law can be obtained from the Receiver of Wreck.

15 - Who deals with the ownership of archaeological material?

The MAS is for recording only and does not attempt to deal with matters of ownership. The Receiver of Wreck (RoW) has a clear legal remit to deal with ownership of recovered wreck, therefore all wreck-related matters should be referred to the RoW.

16 - Will my recovered finds be taken away from me?

Not as part of the MAS. By providing clear photographs of your finds, the MAS team will have sufficient information to identify and research the objects and sites.
However, if a recovered object is ‘wreck’ and has been reported to the Receiver of Wreck (RoW), as is legally required, it is the responsibility of the RoW to establish ownership.
Museums may sometimes consider the opportunity to acquire non-wreck finds.

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